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Here's What Mugabe Can Learn From Mbeki

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki's recall created both a constitutional crisis and an interregnum.

20/11/2017 11:37 SAST | Updated 20/11/2017 11:39 SAST
Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (2nd L) welcomes his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki (2nd R) at Harare airport November 22, 2007.

A military takeover in Zimbabwe stems from a deepening degree of degenerative factionalism within the governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). It's a battle between hardliners, led by First Lady Grace Mugabe, and outsiders, led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was recently fired as deputy-president by President Robert Mugabe, in an assumed attempt to pave the way for his wife, Grace, to succeed him.

In a nutshell, this is an intraparty power struggle that has now spilt over into the public arena. The military takeover, which is not a full-blown coup, resembles a decision by the African National Congress (ANC), the governing party in South Africa, to "recall" Thabo Mbeki as the president of the country in September 2008.

The recall -- prompted by a court judgment that Mbeki and his cabinet had influenced a decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to reinstate 873 charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and tax evasion against Jacob Zuma. President Mbeki fired Zuma, his deputy at the time, in 2005 following a conviction of his partner-in-crime Schabir Shaik on charges corruption and fraud. One could say that in a way, Mbeki's removal also amounted to a bloodless coup.

The main difference, though, is that the Mbeki coup was engineered and carried out within the party, whereas, with the Mugabe one, it was the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) that engineered and carried it out.

Mbeki resigned to avoid "destabilising" the country, argues Frank Chikane, who served as director-general in the presidency under Mbeki, in his book Eight Days in September. Before he agreed to resign, though, he asked about the constitutionality of his recall and its impact on his responsibilities as president pending his resignation, which only became effective a few days later. In essence, the recall created both a constitutional crisis and an interregnum.

Zimbabwe, as South Africa did pending the effectiveness of Mbeki's resignation, has entered into an interregnum with President Mugabe under house arrest and a few ministers having reportedly been arrested by the army.

He was promised answers, but never got them, Chikane explains, which in way proves how the coup was engineered and carried out without taking into account its constitutional challenges.

Zimbabwe, as South Africa did pending the effectiveness of Mbeki's resignation, has now entered into an interregnum, with President Mugabe under house arrest and a few ministers having reportedly been arrested by the army. It is for these reasons that Zimbabweans -- especially members of the ZANU-PF -- need Mugabe more than ever before to extricate them from the aforementioned quagmires.

Mugabe is part of the long-term solution to Zimbabwe's problems, Mbeki argued when he was still South African president. At the time, Mbeki was the Southern African Development Community (SADC) appointed mediator of a political impasse between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the official opposition party in Zimbabwe.

Despite coming under trenchant criticism, both at home and abroad, Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" approach in Zimbabwe led to the Government of National Unity and the same constitutional order that is now under military threat.

Unlike Mbeki, Mugabe is reportedly disinclined to step down. To his advantage, the African Union, SADC and the United Nations do not endorse the removal of democratically elected governments.

ZANU-PF should learn from the ANC's Mbeki and Zuma mistake. Indecorous removal of Mugabe may partition the party in the run-up to elections in 2018. As a result, it may lose power, as the opposition parties are ever more gaining ground.

Incidentally, Mnangagwa is part of the problem, which will not be resolved if he replaces Mugabe. But Mnangagwa is also part of the long-term solution.

As the years go by, Zimbabweans will come to realise that Mugabe is not necessarily their problem, but just a part of their problems, as South Africans have generally come to realise about Mbeki. Nor is Zuma the South African problem; he too is just one part of South Africa's problems.

Unlike Mbeki, Mugabe is reportedly disinclined to step down. To his advantage, the African Union, SADC and the United Nations do not endorse the removal of democratically elected governments.

Hence, the ZDF cannot declare its military takeover as a coup. Instead, it has claimed to be "targeting criminals around" Mugabe, referring to Grace Mugabe and her neo-patrimonial coterie, known as the "G40".

At a meeting last week, SADC reaffirmed its commitment to democratically elected governments. But it has now recommended an urgent extraordinary SADC summit to attend to the military takeover in Zimbabwe and "called upon all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to settle the political challenges through peaceful means".

The final decision on Zimbabwe rests with the proposed SADC summit.

The situation in Zimbabwe directly affects South Africa on two fronts. First, there are millions of Zimbabweans in South Africa searching for economic opportunities and political asylum. If the situation in Zimbabwe becomes worse, even more Zimbabweans are expected to stream into South Africa, placing further financial strain on the country.

Second, Zuma is the SADC chairperson. In this capacity, Zuma sent envoys -- Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo -- to Zimbabwe to engage Mugabe and the ZDF on the military takeover. However, a final decision on Zimbabwe rests with the proposed SADC summit.

Molifi Tshabalala is an independent political analyst.